The Soundtrack to My Life

Earlier today, we had a forum thread about writing soundtracks. For me, music is an essential part of the writing process, and I always create mix tapes for my characters and books, imagining them to be the soundtracks to the stories. A lot of times, what I’m listening to generally in life influences what I’m listening to while writing, but sometimes as I start getting into a character’s story, I just find a song that fits them so well that I can barely separate the two in my mind.

This year, my primary writing music of late has been the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the more I started thinking about this band, the more I realized how much they have set the soundtrack to different parts of my life.

I always joke about how I want to get published just so I can come up with the most badass acknowledgments page in the back of my book, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m going to have to thank some boys from Los Angeles along with those boys from Boston and those other boys from Charlottesville. Oh, well, and those British-boys-turned-Angelenos, too.

I started thinking even more seriously about this because I just watched the CBS Sunday Morning special on the Chili Peppers, and yet again, I came away from an interview with them feeling refreshed and renewed. Yes, I know I spend ages and ages talking about this band, but it is amazing to me to have a band who has been in my life for nearly all of it, and have them still makes me feel this way.

It’s funny, last year, my theme music to life around this time was DMB, because we were just coming off of the close of the tour, and we had just seen that mind-blowing “Minarets” into “Seek Up” in Buffalo, and everything about that band was entirely speaking to me. I felt like there was always a Dave song in the background of my life, and I think that really influenced the book I started last November. But right now, I’m feeling this way about RHCP, and kind of have been ever since I’m With You dropped in August.

There’s also the advent of the internet with this album that is changing the way that I can love this band, because I can now stay connected to their music pretty much continuously through their Facebook pages and Flea’s Twitter. But it wasn’t always that way. Back when I first started following the Chili Peppers, there wasn’t even internet.

A brief timeline of my Chili Pepper love affair:

First album I really remember loving/noticing them was, of course, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. This was 1991, when I was really starting to super get into music. It feels weird to talk about getting into music at the age of 9 or 10, but I was super crazy about mix tapes and my little portable radio at that time, and also MTV. Because recall, at that time, MTV was actually good and actually playing music videos. I remember distinctly watching the videos for “Give it Away,” “Under the Bridge,” and “Suck My Kiss.” I also remember my mum HATING the Chili Peppers because of #1 Anthony Kiedis’ slo-mo man-boob run in the middle of “Under the Bridge” and #2 all of the crotch-shots in “Give It Away.” (Fair enough, no mother wants to lose her daughter to the Chili Peppers and all their crotchy-ness.)

Then I remember when One Hot Minute came out. In between the two, I was stocking up on their old stuff from used CD stores, including a secret copy of BSSM that I had to hide from my parents (Parental Advisory sticker, probably due almost wholly to “Sir Psycho Sexy”). Imagine my joy when Dave Navarro joined the band (I’ve never been a big John Frusciante fan, as I have discussed in my other online journal billions of times lol). I’d always loved Jane’s Addiction. It was like my two favorite worlds coming together.

MTV was still hanging onto their awesomeness by tiny little strings at that point, and one of those awesome things was a week-long promotional event called At Home with the Chili Peppers. Every night, during their regular video programming (do you remember this, when there were blocks of music videos every night??), Kennedy (who I, to this day, hate with a jealous passion because of what I am about to tell you) went to one of the Chili Peppers’ houses and broadcast from there. She hung out with Flea at his pool, Chad in his kitchen, Anthony in his living room, and DAVE NAVARRO IN HIS BED. Seriously. I’m not making this up. (And I just recently came into re-possession of the VHS tape of this that I had made off of the TV! Who still has a VCR and wants to invite me over??)

As if things couldn’t get any better, in the video for “Warped,” the first single off of One Hot Minute, Anthony Kiedis makes out with Dave Navarro. To say nothing of the endless amounts of boys in dresses and fishnets and underpants and eyeliner. ::swoon::

I know One Hot Minute was darker than the standard Chili Pepper album, but I think it was just right for a teenager. I think it was a good soundtrack to that awkward teenage ‘dark’ stage, you know, when you don’t want to come out of your room and stop writing and listening to the Cure because No One Understands You and No Boy Will Ever Be Right. So this album was just what I needed, punctuated with a little bit of old Jane’s Addiction (I was a little Dave-Navarro-obsessed at that time) and Alanis Morrissette.

And after the high from One Hot Minute wore off, the Chili Peppers remained largely in the background of my life for a number of years. I still listened to the old stuff, but I never quite got into Californication and I freely admit that I still don’t own a copy of By the Way, but my life in Los Angeles brought the Chili Peppers back into my life with Stadium Arcadium.

It took me about a year to find this album, and a few listens before it started to really embed itself in my soul. I know that sounds silly and way over-the-top, but I credit that album with getting me through probably the toughest year of my life. I hated LA, hated my job, hated the weather (oh the insufferable sun!!), hated the cost of living, hated the traffic.

But Stadium Arcadium pulled me out of that bad time. Some of my favorite memories from LA (*actual* LA, not the weekend escapes to Central Coast or San Francisco) are driving around, windows down, with this album on, through the streets of suburban Burbank. Something about that album, about knowing that this band that I loved so dearly was back in my life, and that the people who made this incredible music were just miles away from me, loving their lives while I was struggling to find answers in mine, lifted me up from the LA-induced sadness. It gave me hope. To this day, the guitar solo in “Wet Sand” just takes me somewhere else, no matter how many times I hear it.

And now, they’ve come out with I’m With You. And I’m in love a hundred times over again. They’ve grown up, and so have I. They still surprise me – have you heard the drum fill on “Monarchy of Roses,” or the bass line in “Factory of Faith”? And “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” is my theme song any time I need to laugh to keep from crying.

Flea’s journey to the LA marathon is the inspiration that got me started running. Anthony Kiedis is still hot at nearly 50. And the enthusiasm of this band and those two in specific is just inescapable. They love life. They love what they do. I think they are still surprised sometimes that it’s all real. And that, after almost thirty years of doing this, is incredible.

So today, while I’m struggling to figure out how it’s all going to come together in my life, I’m putting on the Chili Peppers to help me power through it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve relied on them for that, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Adventures In Querying, Part Two

The big news is: I got my first rejection letter.

This is important for a number of reasons. First, it’s important because a rejection letter means that I actually sent a query letter to a living, breathing human being. This is a huge step for me, as I’ve spent months and months tweaking and staring at my query letter, ‘preparing’ to send it, and never doing so. So, while I really wanted to kind of run away and consider a career in being the crazy person who sits along the banks of the Charles River and talks to herself, I also kind of felt like, “You go, query-sending rejected girl.”

Second of all, this is the first of many query letter rejections that will go into my Lady Gaga-esque rejection letter dress, which I’m planning to wear to accept my first book award some day. I think it’s really essential to accumulate a decent amount of rejection letters early on, since I am a rather tall girl and would prefer a floor-length rejection letter dress in order to look particularly sweeping and lovely.

Finally, a rejection letter is like a gentle reminder to Query More Agents. No one gets accepted on the first query (and if you have, you should know that I, and every other aspiring author in the world, hate you). So now that the joy and terror of the first query letter is out of the way, it is time to move on to the next dozen.

Latest in my list of Query Terrors is the realization that the humor that is plentiful in my book is absent from my letter. Sure, your query letter is a thing of business, so you shouldn’t be tossing in jokes and taking it un-seriously. But the more I read through it, the more I wonder if there isn’t some way to sneak in a subliminal note to the agent:

Dear Agent,

I know that my query letter explains to you that my book is full of supernatural elements and features Death as a major player, but I want you to know that really, at the heart of all things, my book is funny. I assure you that, betwixt threats of impending doom and serious teenage relationship drama, there are jokes about polyester pants and cute hockey players.

All My Love and Dreams,

I realized this today, whilst querying an agent who is interested in humorous narratives. I found myself typing something along the lines of, “I chose you because you appreciate humorous voices” while realizing that, until she reads the first chapter, and not just the query (which she hasn’t requested, for the record, and therefore would not read unless she gets past this letter), she will not know whatever the fuck I am talking about.

It’s hard out there for a query-er.

Regardless, with all of that in mind, I’ve been working on continuing to query all sorts of agents who will probably never want my book, in the hopes of meeting that One True Agent who will love me unconditionally, and ever-so-slightly more than she loves my book. I’m going to attempt to figure out how to hint at the fact that my book about Death is not heavy-handed, and in fact, if watching my husband read is accurate, actually includes some laugh-out-loud moments. And mostly, I’m just going to be relentless.

Love me, world. Please.